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Białowieża: Awe-inspiring and Hostile Nature

S’enforester takes us to a region straddling the Polish and Belarusian border, into the heart of Białowieża, one of the last primeval forests in Europe. Combining philosophical reflection and photography, Andrea Olga Mantovani and Baptiste Morizot make the forest breathe and speak.

A team endeavor, S’enforester delivers a diversity of approaches: Baptiste Morizot puts on paper what Andrea Mantovani makes us feel through the images. Bringing together art, politics, and ecology, the photographer and the philosopher depict a range of emotions and images elicited by the forest.

View from the window in the remains of the train of Tsar Nicholas II, former Emperor of all the Russias. For centuries, Bialowieza was the hunting forest of the Tsars which allowed its preservation.
 Bialowieza, Poland, October 2017. © Andrea Olga Mantovani
View from the window in the remains of the train of Tsar Nicholas II, former Emperor of all the Russias. For centuries, Bialowieza was the hunting forest of the Tsars which allowed its preservation.
 Bialowieza, Poland, October 2017. © Andrea Olga Mantovani

The last forest of old 

The ground is strewn with dead wood, felled trunks, and overgrown stumps. Białowieża dispels any idea we might have had of a primeval forest. Straddling Polish and Belarusian border, it is one of the last remnants of the vast forest that covered the plains of northern and central Europe after the last ice age. In 2017, to respond to a threat from a an insect that destroys trees, the Polish government started a logging campaign. This decision immediately mobilized ecological protest to protect the forest.

“Białowieża is the site of one of the most important conflicts of our time: it bears witness to the complexity of the relationship between humans and living being,” notes Andrea Mantovani. Rejecting a journalistic approach to documentation, Mantovani steered her work toward a deeper, more personal, imaginative reading. She went to Białowieża initially for three weeks, and ended up staying seven months.

A geographer by training, Mantovani spent six years working on environmental and social issues in Europe. Her work, both fictional and documentary, testifies to her interest in living things and territories. Winner of the Focale Award, Mantovani’s project on the Białowieża forest shapes the myth of the virgin forest in our imagination. The young woman wanders around the woods and takes snapshots, guided only by her instinct.

Polish transporter. It charters the timber from the Bialowieza forest to redistribution platforms. The wood will end up in pallet manufacturing factories. © Andrea Olga Mantovani
Polish transporter. It charters the timber from the Bialowieza forest to redistribution platforms. The wood will end up in pallet manufacturing factories. © Andrea Olga Mantovani

A sylvan fairy tale and a cinematic trek

Amid misty landscapes and almost supernatural settings, something uncanny transcends the lens. Every picture seems to hold a secret. At once poetic and true to life, “the photos are not mere illustrations: they deliver a message and imprint an image on our minds even while they deal with current events.”

Taking advantage of the ambivalence between the ancestral forest and gloomy post-Soviet atmosphere, Andrea spins her photographic narrative like a movie script. However, there is no need to force the issue: a true forest of our childhood tales, Białowieża is as bewitching as it is fascinating. 

Students of the forestry school in the former cinema of Bialowieza.
Bialowieza, Poland, September 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani
Students of the forestry school in the former cinema of Bialowieza.
Bialowieza, Poland, September 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani
Portrait of Olga Krystyna Salomea with a deer skeleton in the Bialowieza Forest. The Bialowieza Forest provides natural habitats for animal and bird species whose protection is considered a priority by the EU. "Poland has violated EU legislation on the protection of nature sites by ordering logging in the Bialowieza Forest" ruled the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice on 28 February 2018.
Bialowieza, Poland.
Octobre 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani
Portrait of Olga Krystyna Salomea with a deer skeleton in the Bialowieza Forest. The Bialowieza Forest provides natural habitats for animal and bird species whose protection is considered a priority by the EU. “Poland has violated EU legislation on the protection of nature sites by ordering logging in the Bialowieza Forest” ruled the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice on 28 February 2018.Bialowieza, Poland.Octobre 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani

“Through Białowieża we speak of all our forests”

“This forest is not us, because it is not our habitat, our environment, our landscape,” writes Baptiste Morizot. Distant, inhospitable, and foreign, Białowieża is nevertheless the very root of existence. A vestige of the past and an emblem of primitive life: to enter Białowieża is to travel back in time. According to Mantovani, the forest above all challenges our future: “Through Białowieża we speak of all our forests.”

Because “being enforested” is more than being immersed in the forest—it means heeding its message.

Pallets placed in the southern area, the deforested part of the Bialowieza Forest. Installation made by the photographer. Through this performance, she wants to raise public awareness about the fact that the wood from Bialowieza ends up being sold as pallets on the European market. Bialowieza, Poland, September, 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani
Pallets placed in the southern area, the deforested part of the Bialowieza Forest. Installation made by the photographer. Through this performance, she wants to raise public awareness about the fact that the wood from Bialowieza ends up being sold as pallets on the European market. Bialowieza, Poland, September, 2017 © Andrea Olga Mantovani

S’enforester, photographs by Andrea Olga Mantovani and text by Baptiste Morizot. Éditions d’une rive à l’autre, 48 €.

© Andrea Olga Mantovani
© Andrea Olga Mantovani

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